Ombudsman Okays City’s Interpretation of Investigations

By Paige Browning

Spokane’s Police Ombudsman says the newest city ordinance about his role may even be better than his own ideas on the topic. The city council approved a long awaited police ombudsman ordinance and police labor contract on Monday.
Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns at a conference in 2012. Photo from ombudsman Facebook page.Ombudsman Tim Burns has waited patiently for two years while the mayor and police leadership crafted an agreement behind closed doors. Previously, Burns could interview a complainant, then forward it to the police internal affairs department.

Burns: “What we now have the ability to do would be schedule an appointment to meet with them, and/or maybe go out and actually look at the physical location where the alleged violation occurred and look at it much more closely before we even submit the complaint to internal affairs for additional work.”
Previous contracts were rejected for not giving his office independent investigative authority, as requested by voters in 2013. This agreement adds a fifth year to the contract, allows the ombudsman to publish closing reports and gives three routes for investigating police misconduct.

Photo: Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns at a conference in 2012. Photo from ombudsman Facebook page.

Burns: “In essence I would call that independent investigative authority because we’re doing a lot more of the ground work, potentially.”
But, the police guild membership still needs to vote. And, the Use of Force Commission is preparing to check-in with the city about the commission’s police recommendations. Chair Marty Martin says two recommendations are about the ombudsman.

Martin: “And we certainly expect to receive a thorough update on what has transpired between the six month review that took place in August and this annual review that will take place in March.”
Police reform activists, like journalist Tim Connor, are still unhappy and say the ombudsman’s office will now be the green room for police investigators. Meanwhile, Tim Burns says it’s good to be him, with so much support from the citizens and city council.

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